As Kansans began digging out Friday from a snowstorm that dumped amounts not seen in half a century in some parts of the state, weather officials warned that another salvo is targeting Wichita and the Kansas Turnpike corridor as the weekend closes.
Forecast models suggest the coming storm could deliver 8 to 15 inches of snow in southern and eastern Kansas, said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita.
“Please pay attention this weekend,” Hayes said. “It could be interesting the first part of next week.”
AccuWeather Vice President Mike Smith said forecast models indicate wind will be a significant factor with this new storm, unlike with its predecessor.
“Certainly there is the potential for blizzard conditions and heavy snow,” Smith said.
Some computer models suggest snowfall amounts could be much lower if the precipitation falls primarily as rain, forecasters say, so they’ll be monitoring updated data closely.
Conditions improve around Kansas
Most of the state’s roads remained snowpacked Friday from the most recent storm, although the state Emergency Operations Center in Topeka returned to normal operations at noon.
Kansas National Guard soldiers traveled nearly 800 miles along Kansas roadways searching for stranded motorists before returning to quarters early Friday morning, Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, said in a prepared statement.
The 28 soldiers in 14 Humvees traveled stretches of I-70 between Salina and Ellis, U.S. 54 between Minneola and Pratt, and U.S. 400 from Bucklin to Dodge City on Thursday night. They stopped to check on approximately 70 vehicles – most of them semi-trailer trucks.
The Kansas Highway Patrol had 235 troopers on duty over the course of the storm, helping stranded motorists, Watson said. Troopers worked 106 non-injury accidents and 15 injury accidents, with no reported fatalities.
The troopers also handled more than 1,400 calls assisting motorists, including slide-offs, tows and abandoned vehicles.
Kansas Department of Transportation drivers in snowplows are working in two shifts around the clock, clearing major highways.
The weekend should help efforts to clear streets and highways, weather officials said – at least until the next storm arrives.
“It doesn’t look like blowing or drifting will be an issue” on Saturday and Sunday, weather service meteorologist Scott Smith said. “We’re not expecting much wind.”
Though temperatures weren’t expected to climb out of the 20s Friday, “thanks to all that snowpack,” Smith said, sunshine should nonetheless encourage thawing.
“With the sun shining down, the roads should improve dramatically once they start getting stuff on the roads,” he said.
Crews working weekend
Snow-removal crews in Wichita will work around the clock through the weekend, said Joe Pajor, deputy director of public works and utilities.
By late Friday, crews had taken more than 500 dump-truck loads of snow from the downtown and Delano areas to a pile near Second and McLean, Pajor said. There is not enough room in the downtown area to store that much snow without taking up parking spaces and hampering traffic flow.
In a Friday briefing for news media, Pajor gave this status report: Street crews made significant progress overnight. Arterial streets remain slick in places; some streets still need to be treated with sand and salt.
Pajor urged motorists to continue to drive at slower speeds, increase following distances and avoid braking when possible. Residential streets remain snow-packed, but travel over them has improved driving conditions.
He reminded residents that an ordinance requires them to keep public sidewalks clear of snow and ice in front of their homes or abutting their homes for pedestrians’ safety. Otherwise, residents could face a fine or liability, Pajor said.
Pajor thanked city workers for their hard work in clearing streets of what was the second-largest snowfall in the city’s recorded history.
Crews focus on emergency routes and arterial streets first, then secondary streets and school routes, Pajor said. Residential streets, except those near schools, are not cleared because doing so would block driveways and parked cars, Pajor said.
The city is ordering more salt and sand for street treatment, and although supplies are low, the city doesn’t expect to run out, Pajor said.
Police Lt. Doug Nolte said very few accidents were reported overnight.
The Emergency Accident Reporting Plan was lifted for both Wichita and Sedgwick County as roads begin to improve in the area.
Beware of frostbite
State officials were warning against frostbite as residents begin digging out from the storm.
“Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold,” Dr. Robert Moser, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary and state health officer, said in a prepared statement.
People should be outside in these conditions only for short periods of time, officials warned.
As much as 18 inches of snow fell in Kingman County just west of Wichita, along with 17.3 inches in Willowbrook just west of Hutchinson in Reno County. Hays reported 17 inches, and Hill City in northwest Kansas reported 15 inches.
The 14.2 inches recorded by the weather service in west Wichita is the most since 15 inches fell on Jan. 17-18, 1962. Reports of a foot or more of snow were widespread across Kansas.
Overnight Thursday in Cheney, the roof of Ott Auto Sales partially caved in under the weight of about a foot of snow.
Owner Lloyd Ott of Derby said the metal building, 117 Jefferson, is about 70 years old. But he didn’t expect the middle section to collapse.
“I figured there’s a lot of ways that could’ve happened, but snow wasn’t one of them,” said Ott, a car dealer and retired teacher who stores and rebuilds cars in the shop.
He said he’s lucky none of the five or six vehicles inside sustained damage. But he’s unsure what to do: repair the roof or tear down and rebuild.
Motorists in the Wichita area were being cautious during a muted morning commute Friday. Stretches of I-70 and U.S. 54 were closed for much of Thursday, but no closures were in effect as of Friday morning, according to KDOT.
Students, teachers and staff members for schools in and around Wichita – along with much of the state – got the day off because of the snow, though state offices opened late.
AAA responded to 430 calls for roadside assistance on Thursday across the state.
Three cities accounted for the highest call volumes in the state, AAA spokesman Jim Hanni said: 135 in Topeka, 113 in Wichita and 40 in Lawrence.
AAA also assisted law enforcement officers who became stuck while trying to help stranded motorists, Hanni said. About 60 percent of AAA’s calls were for cars that became stuck or slid off the road. Another 30 percent required towing.
Contributing: Tim Potter and Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle.